Evan Longoria led the charge for Joey Bart to receive his chance. During spring training 2.0, when it became indisputable that Bart was the most talented catcher in camp and yet would start the season in Sacramento, several Giants spoke up. Longoria called him the “closest that we have in terms of breaking through at the big-league level and being an impact player right out of the chute.”
Right out of the chute upon promotion he was, three extra-base hits in three games. And then pitchers learned how to pitch him, and the Giants’ holding him for so long in Sacramento made more sense.
Bart’s first taste of the majors was bitter, showing off tools that are clearly there but looking too raw at the plate. He smoked batted balls — his 48.4 percent hard-hit percentage was 37th in baseball — but far too many toward the ground (51.6 percent). Because he couldn’t get under pitches, he finished his 33-game season without his first home run. The contact itself was not present nearly enough, striking out 41 times in 111 plate appearances while walking just three times.
Defensively, there were too many dropped pitches as he firms up his framing, but the cannon of an arm was there, even if he threw out 18 percent of base stealers. There also were complications with pitchers, most notably Johnny Cueto, who preferred throwing to Chadwick Tromp and then Tyler Heineman, he and Bart never looking comfortable.
Buster Posey, tending to his newly adopted twin babies, was not around to be Cueto’s personal catcher or to work Bart through struggles on both sides or to help him prepare for a game that is played on fast forward in the majors.
To Longoria, that absence was glaring in terms of Bart’s development.
“He really needed Buster here, let’s be honest,” Longoria said after Sunday’s season-ending loss. “Buster would have I think really helped him deal with things on a day-to-day basis.”
Longoria relayed as much recently to Posey, while making it clear that of course Posey had to opt out and care for his family. But without a three-time World Champion, a six-time All-Star and one of the best defensive catchers the game has seen, Bart did not have a veteran to bounce ideas off and absorb ideas from.
“You can’t expect the guy to know everything when he first comes up here,” Longoria said of the 23-year-old Bart, who played 22 games in Double-A last year. “Joey was trying to work through a lot of things that as a young player — for me I had other veteran infielders that could really help me get through some situations.
“And in a year like this year where everybody was separated and then there wasn’t a lot of … it wasn’t a normal year where you could have a close-knit clubhouse. I think sometimes he felt isolated.”
The catchers paired with Bart entered the season with a combined five games of major league experience, all courtesy of Heineman.
“[Bart] felt like he was trying to figure out a lot of things on his own. And so I think it was a really good year for him learning-wise, but I look for a lot of growth even next year and being able to be around Buster this spring and just really take the next step.”
Posey, in a video message for Willie Mac Award winner Mike Yastrzemski, said he can’t wait to rejoin the club next year. The Giants will have a problem they want to have at catcher in Posey’s final season of his contract. He will be 34 next March and still squats in his own class defensively, while both he and Bart have at least gotten looks at first base.
If the National League embraces the DH again, that also opens up at-bats. But a player who slashed .233/.288/.320 this year would not fight his way into lineups without improvement.
“There was nothing for [Bart] to gain being in the alternate camp,” Longoria said over Zoom. “I think he learned a lot of valuable lessons this year. And I think we’re going to see exponential growth next year.”